In many cultures, baby massage has been an integral part of childcare for centuries.
In countries as far apart as India, Fiji, Nigeria and Bali – and among the Maori in New Zealand – massage starts soon after birth and continues until a baby is at least six or seven months old.
Baby massage has evoked considerable interest in the West, where such a practice is largely nonexistent. To take a closer look at baby massage, the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine conducted a study of Indian mothers performing the traditional massage on newborn babies.
The study, conducted in Calcutta (now Kolkata) in 1993, found that the daily massage was quite rigorous and that the babies slept soundly afterwards.
In the US, baby massage was first popularized in the late 1980s when Vimala McClure, founder of the International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM), published a book on Indian massage techniques. She also held classes to teach these techniques in the US as well as Europe.
What are the advantages of performing baby massage? Among other benefits, baby massage:
*Stimulates brain activity
*Stimulates hormone production
*Inhibits the production of the stress hormone, cortisol
*May reduce colic and gas
*Increases oxygen flow to the cells
*Enhances a baby’s neurological development and improves her muscle tone
*May soothe the pain of teething
When performing a baby massage, it is important to be aware of the following do’s and don’ts:
*The baby massage must be done in a warm room, with the temperature at about 25 degrees Celsius.
*It is good to have some music playing in the background (but turn the TV off).
*The baby should be unclothed and laid on a towel.
*The baby massage is best done after a bath and before the baby settles down for the night.
*Avoid using too much pressure. To get a sense of the right amount of pressure to use, close your eyes and massage your eyeballs.
*Use the palm of your hand for the baby’s belly and back; for smaller areas, use your fingertips.
*Use grape seed-oil for your baby massage. You run the risk of an allergic reaction with nut-based oils.
You should use your fingertips to start the massage with the baby’s face. The strokes should be gentle, and your fingertips should move upwards over the baby’s cheeks, forehead and chin, circling his eyes, ears, nose and mouth.
You should next move to the baby’s arms, massaging the shoulders before moving down to the arms and wrists. The legs come next. Use your hands to massage upwards, bending the baby’s knees to the belly. This relieves colic and gas pains.
Make circles in a clockwise direction starting at the baby’s belly button and gradually increase the size of the circles. Finally, use your palms to sweep slowly along the back up to the shoulders.
It is important that you do not massage the baby’s spine. And don’t continue the massage if the baby seems uncomfortable. After all, your baby’s enjoyment is paramount.